Defining Teixeira’s issues at the plate

(From Flickr user EDorf81 via Creative Commons)

Yesterday Mike examined a sad development for the Yankees. Mark Teixeira, whose offensive prowess led the Yankees to the AL East crown in 2009, has slipped considerably in the last two seasons. After a slow start, even for him, he picked up the pace, only to be slowed by injuries. Yet this year, when he’s been ostensibly healthy, he’s producing similar numbers. Of particular concern is his pitiful batting average, which affects his OBP, which in turn hurts his overall value. It’s not a stretch to say that the Yankees expected more when they signed him.

We all have our theories on why Teixeira is performing so poorly. In the comments of Mike’s post we saw a huge array of them, ranging from poor mechanics to his pull tendencies, and even to downright bad luck. It’s hard to say which of these has the most merit, since many of the theories are based on anecdotal evidence or sloppy statistical assumptions (i.e., low BABIPs will always due to bad luck and will always rise). But we can dig a bit deeper to see what has changed since Teixeira’s mammoth 2009 season.

A quick glance at Teixeira’s FanGraphs page can lead to some answers, but it’s important to put those numbers into context. What stood out to me, and what probably stands out to you, is that he’s swinging at way more balls out of the zone. In 2009 that was 21.8 percent, which is right around the level he had been at previously. In 2010 that jumped to 26.5 percent, and this year it’s 25.6 percent. OK, you might say, that explains a lot. Yet it doesn’t. If you click Show Averages, you’ll see that the average rate of swinging outside the zone jumped in 2010. Look to your right, and you’ll see that the league-wide percentage of pitches thrown in the zone has fallen, implying that the zone has become a bit smaller. In order to gauge how Teixeira has reacted we have to compare his rates to the league average.

In 2009 Tex’s rate of swinging at pitches outside the zone was 15 percent below the league average (21.8 percent to 25.1 percent). In 2010 his rate climbed, but so did the league average. He finished swinging at 26.5 percent of pitches, which was 11 percent below league average. This year he’s swinging at 25.6 percent of pitches, which is 17 percent below league average. So while he did swing at relatively more pitches out of the zone last year, he’s at a better pace this year when compared to the league. In fact, his 25.6 percent rate is 34th lowest in the majors, out of 152 qualified hitters. While it might be frustrating to watch him swing over changeups, it doesn’t seem to be an issue.

One thing that has changed is that he’s making contact with fewer of these out of zone pitches. Again, we need to adjust for league average when looking at his numbers — and I’ll spare you the specific calculations — but in 2009 he had a contact rate on pitches out of the zone that was well above league average. Last year he was closer to league average, and this year he’s almost right at it. In other words, he’s swinging and missing more, which is reflected in his 7.2 percent swinging strike rate. That’s about a half point worse than his rates from 2008 through 2010. Predictably, his contact rate, especially his contact rate on pitches inside the zone, has dropped considerably.

This has all added up to an all-or-nothing season for Tex. He’s still hitting for plenty of power, as 47 percent of his hits have gone for extra bases (7th highest rate in the AL). His ISO this year is actually better this year, compared to the league average, than it was in 2009, and it is fifth highest in the AL. It’s the singles, and to an extent the doubles, that haven’t come along at an adequate pace. His .221 BABIP ranks 77th out of 78 in the AL, besting only Alex Rios, who is just plain bad. If he had a league-average BABIP, which he had in 2009, he would be hitting far closer to .280, and his OBP would be up near .400. Yet the hits, for whatever reason, haven’t dunked in, and what’s left is a low-average, high power player.

The shift does have something to do with Teixeira’s woes. This year he has 108 at-bats in which he batted lefty and hit the ball to right. In such instances he has hit .324, which might at first seem to negate the idea of the switch causing a problem. Alas, his average does count his home runs, and he has hit 17 of his 25 home runs from the left side to right field. His BABIP as a lefty going to right is .198; in 2009 it was .311. He’s also seen his BABIP as a righty going to left drop from .343 in 2009 to .293 this year, and has seen an even bigger drop in his BABIP as a righty going up the middle, from .315 to .233. While there could be other explanations at play, defensive positioning could certainly play a large role in his overall BABIP drop.

What complicates this analysis is Teixeira’s current slump. After his two-homer game against Texas in mid-June he was hitting .257, which, while not great, is at least do-able. Since then he’s hit .198/.274/.349 in 117 PA, with just four homers and four doubles, and a walk rate that is below his season average. It’s a slump of the first order, and it’s wreaking havoc on his season numbers. It’s gotten even worse lately, as he is just 12 for 55 with two doubles and no homers in July, and 4 for 23 with one walk and no extra base hits since the break. He’s surely not this bad, but when the hits aren’t dropping in anyway, slumps like this hurt that much more.

While the slump does loom large, it does appear that opponents have figured out where to play Teixeira for maximum effectiveness. He’s become predictable, that is, and it shows in his batting average — and, therefore, his OBP. He’s still crushing baseballs as he has in the past, perhaps even hitting some homers where he previously hit doubles. But the singles are not dropping in, and they probably won’t start dropping in until he changes something at the plate. The question is of what he can do to solve the problem. For Teixeira, a nine-year veteran, there doesn’t appear to be an easy answer.

Ninety-three games in, a myth busted

(click for larger)

Early on in the season, the Yankees were hitting homeruns like they were going out of style. Mark Teixeira was putting his April slump to rest with homer after homer, Curtis Granderson was smacking everything out of the park, 2007 Alex Rodriguez made a one-month cameo, and even Russell Martin was getting in the fun. “The Yankees are too reliant on the homerun!” was the popular chorus at the time, and every game we’d hear about how X% of their runs came via the homer. It was an ungodly number at the time, something like 60%, which is a little nuts.

But the season continued and, as expected, the Yankees’ offense started to normalize a bit. They were still hitting more homers than everyone else (they lead MLB with 125 dingers) but they weren’t coming with the same frequency as they had early in the season. Amazingly enough, they were still scoring a plethora of runs. Weird, I know. At 5.15 runs per game, they’re second behind the Red Sox (5.46) in overall scoring. No other team is over 5.0 and no other team is within two-tenths of a run per game of New York.

The graph above shows us two things to help visualize the offense. The blue line is the team’s plate appearances per homerun throughout the season, the axis on the left. They were sitting right around 20 PA/HR through the first 20 games or so, but it’s gradually risen and right now they’re at 28.8 PA/HR. That’s the best in baseball, as you’d imagine. Texas is in second at 31.1 PA/HR. The pink line is the team’s runs per game, the axis on the right. That stabilized about a month into the season and has hovered at just over five runs per game since early-May. The homers aren’t coming as often, but the runs are still being scored at the same pace.

The Yankees haven’t hit a homerun in four games now, not since Andruw Jones whacked a pair in Toronto late last week. In fact, the only two players to hit a homerun since A-Rod hit the disabled list are Jones and Derek Jeter. Go figure. The Yankees are 3-1 in those homerless games and since the 42nd game of the season (the first time they jumped over 25.0 PA/HR), they’re 33-18. That’s a .647 winning percentage, a 105-win pace over a full season. The Yankees offense isn’t reliant on the homerun, they’ve been scoring plenty of runs without them for two and a half  months now because Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher and pretty much everyone else is getting on base at a better than league-average rate. The “too many homers” fad was just that, a fad.

The DH Dead Spot (Again)

Not many hip hips! these days. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Last night’s win was a typical Yankees’ offense kind of win. They worked the count and put together prolonged at-bats against some young pitchers, eventually scoring the winning run on three straight walks (the first of which was intentional). Two of their nine walks on the night came from the DH spot, the first by Jorge Posada and the second by pinch-hitter Andruw Jones. Jones has been coming around of late, with three hits (two homers) and the walk in his last eight plate appearances. For Posada, the walk was a rare offensive contribution.

Less than a month ago, 22 days in fact, Joe wrote this post explaining how Jorge’s season had turned around starting with the west coast trip through Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim. He had hit .312/.437/.613 in 119 PA from the start of the trip to the date of the post, bringing his season line up to .245/.366/.412. Posada was up to a 101 wRC+ at the time of the post, which in sabermetric jargon means he was one percent better than league average offensively. Considering where he’d come from (bottomed out at .147/.250/.393 on May 10th), that was a minor miracle.

Except it didn’t last. In the 22 days since that post, Posada has hit just .232/.290/.429 in the admittedly small sample of 62 PA. You can take it back further though, the slump began a little earlier in the month, with that 1-0 loss to the Indians and Carlos Carrasco in Yankee Stadium in early June. Since then, Jorge has hit just .225/.282/.408, which has dropped his season line to .224/.331/.384, an 88 wRC+. He’s once again well below the league average, and the Yankees are once again getting some of the worst production out of the DH spot (third worst, to be exact) in the AL.

As we saw last night, Posada is again starting lose playing time like he did back in May. Jones pinch-hit for him against the left-hander last night, and he made a DH appearance against a lefty in Toronto. He also played left one of those games while Curtis Granderson made his first ever appearance as a DH. With Alex Rodriguez on the shelf for another month or so, the Yankees can’t really afford to sacrifice offense from what should be a premium offensive spot any longer. So what happens now?

Flat out cutting Posada has been in the back of everyone’s mind seemingly all season, and it seemed like the Yankees came dangerously close to doing that during that little incident against the Red Sox. Jorge’s rebound saved his job for a bit, but he’s a limited defensive player that wouldn’t exactly be tough to replace as the backup first baseman, especially with Eric Chavez on the mend (yes, Chavez’s health is far from a sure thing). Jones could continue to get more playing time and Joe Girardi could shuffle players in and out of the DH spot for what he calls “half a day off,” but then you’re talking about more playing time for Chris Dickerson or Brandon Laird in the lineup. That’s not exactly ideal.

There’s always the trade market, and Buster Olney says that while the Yanks have talked with the Mets about Carlos Beltran, they’re only interested in a pure salary dump. Beltran is the best hitter available and the Amazin’s are sticking to their guns about wanting a top prospect in return, and they’re reportedly willing to eat most of the money left on his contract to secure that kind of return. There’s guys like Josh Willingham and Ryan Ludwick, who could probably be had for much cheaper and provide an upgrade over Posada. Beltran’s the sexy name, but I’m fairy certain the Yankees could find a competent DH on the trade market without giving up a top prospect, someone to hit sixth or seventh once everyone’s healthy. Jesus Montero is apparently considered a non-option at this point, so there’s no reason to talk about him again.

Between Mark Teixeira‘s current slump and Posada’s continued fall from grace, the Yankees are getting below-average production from two spots typically counted on for some thump. Logically, there isn’t much of a reason to expect Jorge to rebound even though he very well might, this is only 70-something plate appearances after all. The Yankees can’t really afford to wait around forever to find out though. The trade deadline is less than two weeks away but A-Rod doesn’t figure to come back until two weeks or so after that, so if the team wants to beef up the DH spot, now’s really the time to do it.

Yanks handle rookie pitchers in comeback win

This one had trap written all over it. The Rays weren’t just throwing a rookie starter, they were throwing a rookie starter that featured a knockout changeup. That’s like using a cheat code against the Yankees. Sure enough, Alex Cobb kept New York in check for six innings, but ultimately a former Yankee and another rookie hurler did Tampa in.

Takedown.

A Krazy Komeback

We’ll get into why the Yankees were down 4-2 going into the eighth inning in just a bit, but let’s start with the comeback. Tampa’s bullpen was already taxed from the 16-game against the Red Sox on Sunday, and Joe Maddon burned his top setup man (Joel Peralta) in the seventh. Cesar Ramos struck out Mark Teixeira with men at first and second to end the seventh, then came back on to start the eighth. The lefty allowed two baserunners within his first six pitches of the inning, a single to Robinson Cano and a four-pitch walk to Nick Swisher. Andruw Jones came off the bench to pinch-hit for Jorge Posada, but he flew out to center for the first out.

That brought Maddon out of the dugout and Kyle Farnsworth out of the bullpen. Farnsy’s have a very good year, but he’s still Kyle freaking Farnsworth and is born to blow leads. Russell Martin got a hold of a 1-0 fastball and singled to left, loading the bases with one out. That brought the molten hot Brett Gardner to the plate, who singled through the left side on the sixth pitch of his at-bat to make it a 4-3 game. Eduardo Nunez followed that up with a tailor made double play ball, but his speed combined with Gardner’s hard slide at second meant it was just a fielder’s choice. Nunez was safe and Swish trotted home from third to tie the game. It was nice to be on the other end of one of Farnsworth’s eighth inning meltdowns for once.

A Lead

Ball four.

Poor Alex Torres. Being a rookie in the big leagues is tough enough, but being a rookie and making your big league debut against the Yankees in the ninth inning of a tie game when you haven’t pitched out of the bullpen in two years is as tough as it gets. Curtis Granderson singled after an eight-pitch at-bat to lead off the inning, but Teixeira swung over top of (what else?) a changeup for strike three and the first out. Grandy stole second with Cano at the plate, who grounded out to second and moved the runner to third.

Tampa had two outs, but then Maddon got a little cute. Torres was ordered to intentionally walk Swisher to get to Andruw, which was the right move on paper but seemed destined to fail. It’s amazing how often a pitcher will issue an intentional walk and immediately lose the plate, it’s like they can’t get back on track after the four wide ones. That’s why you’ll usually see a pitcher get yanked after the IBB and a fresh arm brought in for the next batter. Torres was left in there, and he predictably walked Jones on five pitches to load the bases. Martin saw a series of fastballs and changeups, and the count went 0-1 to 1-1 to 2-1 to 2-2 to 3-2 to 3-2 (after a foul) before a changeup hung up high for ball four. Torres’ third straight walk and second straight unintentional walk forced in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth. Gardner grounded out one batter later, but the damage was done. Torres threw 44 pitches in the inning, just 22 for strikes. As a thank you, he was shipped back to Triple-A after the game.

Bad A.J.

The Yankees staked A.J. Burnett to an early one-zip lead, but he felt bad for the Rays after their 16-inning loss to Boston so he gave it right back and then some. Johnny Damon walked on five pitches to open the first inning, then Ben Zobrist singled on the first fastball he saw to push Johnny to second. Evan Longoria jumped all over a first pitch fastball for a booming double into the gap, scoring two runs in the span of eight pitches. Casey Kotchman followed that up with a single back up the middle on the first fastball he saw, but Longoria only advanced to third.

Four batters into the game, the Rays had seen four fastballs in the strike zone and picked up a base knock on three of them. That prompted Burnett and Martin to switch to the curve, which they used to induce a 3-6-3 double play form B.J. Upton. Tex wisely looked Longoria back to third before throwing to second, so no run scored. Sean Rodriguez bounced a curveball back to Burnett for what looked like out number three, but A.J. made an off balance throw to first that beat Tex through the five-hole. The run scored anyway, and the Rays had a 3-1 lead.

Burnett got out of the inning but allowed another run in the second, which was all the damage Tampa did on the night. They should have done more though, a lot more. A.J. walked six batters and gave up eight hits, so that’s 14 baserunners in 5.1 IP. He would have allowed more than the four runs if Hector Noesi didn’t do him the favor of stranding the two runners he inherited in the sixth. If you want to grasp at straws and give Burnett props for pitching into the sixth after looking so awful early on, be my guest. I won’t do it. He was terrible, but his offense picked him up.

They're going to have to trade B.J. Upton to pay next month's bill.

Lights Out

With Cano staring at a full count with men on first and second with two outs in the fifth inning … boom, the lights went out. Literally. A bank of lights went out at the Trop, and the two teams were pulled off the field. Apparently a branch line that services the building got struck by lightning, resulting in the 18 minute delay. That’s the baseball gods’ way of telling Tampa they should have played the doubleheader last weekend, jerks.

Anyway, ready for some fun arbitrary endpointness? Before the lights went out, Yankees hitters were 2-for-17 (.118) with four walks. After the lights came back on, they were 6-for-19 (.316) with five walks. Clearly, they should make sure the lights go out early in every game.

Leftovers

David Robertson will get with the win (two strikeouts (on changeups!!!) in a perfect inning) and Mariano Rivera will get the save (one strikeout in a perfect inning), but Noesi was absolutely huge. He inherited that first and second with one out situation in the sixth, loaded the bases with a walk of his own, but escaped the jam by striking out Upton. Noesi also threw a scoreless seventh before the Yankees mounted their comeback. Good stuff, kid.

Gardner continued his monster streak at the dish, fresh off his huge series in Toronto. He had that single in the eighth but also drew a pair of walks, and he saw a total of (get this) 31 pitches in his five plate appearances. That’s pretty insane, but you know what else is insane? Granderson had two hits and two walks and he saw 32 pitches in his five plate appearances. That’s 63 pitches of the 191 thrown by Tampa pitchers (33%) to just two players. They also combined to steal three bases as well (two by Grandy). Ridiculous.

The rest of the offense was pretty spread out. Jeter had a single and two ill-timed strikeouts (one ended the rally in the eighth, the other came with a man on third with one out in the fifth), Tex and Cano both had singles, Swisher had a single and two walks (one intentional), Posada drew a walk, and Martin had a single and a walk. The Yankees didn’t have a single extra base hit in the game, and they set new season highs for hits (eight) and runs (five) in a game without an extra base hit.

On last thing: Martin climbed the dugout railing trying to catch a foul pop-up with two outs in the sixth inning, which was cool but holy crap don’t ever do it again. That’s an injury waiting to happen, there’s no reason to try it. Anyway, the Yankees have won three straight and five of their last seven games.

WPA Graph, Box Score & Standings

Now that’s a good one. MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs the nerdy stuff, and ESPN the up-to-date standings.

Up Next

Same two teams Tuesday night, when Bartolo Colon gives it a go against another rookie in Jeremy Hellickson. Hopefully Bartolo’s not feeling apprehensive about his hamstring any more.

Huge days for Williams & Gumbs in SI win

The Rockies again had a scout at tonight’s Double-A Trenton game, but they’re not sticking around for the rest of the homestand. Jose Quintana was the High-A Florida State League Pitcher of the Week while Casey Stevenson took home Short Season Staten Island Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Triple-A Scranton (7-6 loss to Columbus, walk-off style) they faced an old buddy, who threw an inning before the rain then came back out after the two hour delay … that’s seems pretty dumb
Kevin Russo, 2B-3B: 1 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 BB – capped off a four-run, ninth inning comeback with the game-tying single
Greg Golson, CF: 0 for 5, 2 K
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 5, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 3 K – the homer was the left-center, so this one wasn’t oppo … that’s ten strikeouts in his last 18 at-bats
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 0 for 4, 2 K – 11 strikeouts in his last 24 at-bats
Terry Tiffee, 1B: 1 for 2, 1 2B – left the game after getting hurt on a slide
Luis Nunez, PR-2B: 1 for 2, 1 R
Mike Lamb, 3B-1B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K
Jordan Parraz, RF & Austin Krum, LF: both 1 for 3, 1 R – Parraz doubled, walked, and struck out twice … Krum stole a base and drove in a run
Doug Bernier, SS: 2 for 3, 1 RBI, 1 BB
Greg Smith, LHP: 1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 0-2 GB/FB – 12 of 25 pitches were strikes (48%) … picked a runner off first … he pitched before the rains came
Buddy Carlyle, RHP: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 3 WP, 1-2 GB/FB – 25 of 44 pitches were strikes (56.8%)
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 3 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 3 WP, 2 HB, 5-1 GB/FB – 31 of 60 pitches were strikes (51.7%) … he and Carlyle combined to throw five wild pitches in the third inning, which helped set a new franchise record for wild pitches in a game … apparently he started out slow but finished strong
J.C. Romero, LHP: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2-1 GB/FB – half of his 22 pitches were strikes
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K – just six of his 14 pitches were strikes (42.9%)
Randy Flores, LHP: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0-1 GB/FB – five of his nine pitches were strikes … took the air out of the comeback by serving up the walk-off homer

[Read more…]

Soriano, Chavez will begin rehabs assignments tomorrow

Via Chad Jennings, both Rafael Soriano and Eric Chavez will begin their rehab assignments with High-A Tampa tomorrow. “You just kind of keep your fingers cross that everything goes well for both of them tomorrow,” said Joe Girardi before tonight’s game, who confirmed that Soriano will need at least three rehab appearances before rejoining the team. They also want him to pitch on back-to-back days at least once before activated. Chavez is likely to DH at first, but playing the field can’t be far behind if they’re willing to start his rehab clock.

Game 93: A rookie!

(AP Photo/Christine Cotter)

The Yankees have never faced Alex Cobb before. Well, maybe the recently recalled Brandon Laird saw him in Triple-A this season, but that hardly counts. He’s a rookie pitcher that lives off his offspeed stuff, and that usual spells certain doom for the Yankees. Tampa’s bullpen took a beating over the weekend, so now it’s time to step it up a bit and really put some pressure on them in the first game of a four-game set. Please, no flailing at changeups. Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF
Eduardo Nunez, 3B

The game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Rays Moves: Tampa made a series of roster moves before the game today. Juan Cruz and third catcher Jose Lobaton were both placed on the disabled list while Adam Russell was designated for assignment. In their place comes tonight’s starter Alex Cobb, left-handed Alex Torres (a starter, though I’m sure he’s here to work out of the bullpen), and catcher Robinson Chirinos, who can also play the infield. Torres came over in the Scott Kazmir trade, Chirinos for Matt Garza.